Travel Stories

Tips on How to Navigate the Top Parisian Tourist Spots

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by Johara Al Mogbel

Oh, Paris, where would we start with you? The touristy stuff? The culinary angle? The mounds of fashion? The culture? The snobbishness? There’s so much to talk about it could take us this entire magazine to give you proper insight into France’s capital.


And it took us at least 6 visits to uncover all the city had to offer. You see, Paris is both the cliche that movies make it out to be, and a surprise, all at once. It’s one of our more favourite cities, but it could also be one of the ones we’ve had the worst experiences in. Kind of like Hogwarts. It’s magical.

Versailles

This seems quite obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people tend to leave it out of their itineraries. Which is a shame, because the Versailles is a must. Home to Marie Antoinette’s unfortunately infamous years as queen, as well as the gorgeous hall of mirrors. Buy your tickets in advance in FNAC to skip the lines, and pack a picnic to eat in the immaculate garden.

Time Required: A whole day

Eiffel Tower

We’re a bit ambivalent about the most recognisable icon in the world. On one hand, it’s a must visit for first timers, if only to cross it off the list. On the other, going to the top could take up to 3 hours in line and is slightly overrated. If it’s your first time, do take a visit up but skip going to the tip top because it’s another hour of queuing for a few meters difference in a much narrower space. And, funnily enough, the area around it has some of the most delicious soft serve ice creams we’ve tried.

Time Required: from 1-4 hours

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Notre Dame

The facade of the Notre Dame is pretty impressive. And every time we spot a gargoyle, we squeal. Plus, the area around the Notre Dame is a pretty nice place to walk in. So is Victor Hugo’s inspiration for his most known book worth the visit? Yes. Just be warned that the lines to see the interior are about 2-3 hours long, more in the summer, so decide if it’s worth it to peek in. And one more thing: since the cafes have begun automating their crepes, they’re no longer the best in town. Stay away.

Time Required: 10-30 minutes exterior, 1-4 hours interior.

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Louvre

We’ll be honest here; we’re not fans of the Louvre. For repeat visitors, your time is much better off in other more interesting museums. And we think the Mona Lisa is the single most overrated piece of art on the face of the planet, the painting right across is so much more interesting. But if you’ve never been, then it’s a must. Plan ahead and decide which exhibits are the most important to you, the place is too big to cover entirely in one visit.

Time required: Half a day

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Musee d’Orsay

If there must be hype,it should’ve been for the Musee D’Orsay. Housed in a architecturally wonderful space, an abandoned Beaux-Arts train station, the building itself deserves a visit. And it houses some of the truly brilliant art, like Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, Edgar Degas’s Portraits at the Stock Exchange, and Claude Monet’s Blue Lilies. If you don’t see a Van Gogh at least once in your life… it’s a waste. Of your eyes. And your travels. Shame. On. You.

Time Required: changes according to personal preference, from 2 hours to half a day.

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Montmartre

The old-haven-for-artists-turned-tourist-trap, Montmartre is the relic of a bygone era where Coco Chanel swam about in scandalous trousers and Salvador Dali fell prey to a conniving 1920s Yoko Ono. Is it worth it? The view opposite the Sacré-Cœur is. Viewing all of Paris from afar is not something to be missed. And the Sacré-Cœur itself is worth a visit for once, and taking a look at the tchik-tchok art in the artist’s square is always fun. Just don’t spend too much time here, or buy any of the ‘art’; prices are jacked up and you can find that thing back in the central city. Pass by the Dali Museum while you’re there!

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Time Required: 2-3 hours

Catacombs

Our personal favorite off-beat historical landmark. Underground ossuaries in the old city tunnels, they hold the remains of about six million people, their bones all artistically lined up after the head of the Paris mine inspection service in 1810 arranged for it to be more visitable. Be warned, however: this museum is not for everyone. If you’re squeamish, pass over it. These bones might have the plague. Hehehehehe. We kid. (No, seriously, they still might.)

Time Required: 2-3 hours

National Opera

Yes. Yes, yes, yes to a tour of the Opera. The architecture, the interior, the general secretive atmosphere they have about that one private box that ‘has been paid for for 100 years, madame, and not one person has been seen going in”. If Paris is Hogwarts, the Opera is the Great Hall, floating lights and all. We even enjoy passing by it while we walk from one arrondissement to another, if only to see the sun glint off the golden statues on the top.

Time required: 2-3 hours

Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe

Probably the most famous landmark after the Eiffel Tower, or at least for Khaleejis anyway, the Champs Elysee’s leafy boulevard is a big lure for tourists. Here’s the thing: In summer, it is insufferable. And most of the cafes are sub-quality. But it does have the most VOST cinemas, as well as the Arc de Triomphe, and it opens up until midnight in the summer, so after sundown feel free to take a stroll on one of your days. Also, did you know you could climb the Arc de Triopmhe? We didn’t either, how cool is that?

Time Required: N/A

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Institut du Monde Arabe

Of all the museums in the city, this is the one that resonated with us the most. Traveling, no matter where it takes you, always leaves a small residue of homesickness for the familiar, and the Institut does wonderfully in clearing that up. An organization that was founded in the French capital by 18 Arab countries, it houses various Islamic cultural exhibitions and historical artefacts, as well as provides a pretty nifty timeline to study Arabic culture from. There is a hint of orientalism in the exhibitions that might annoy but overall it’s a decent effort. And the building itself is quite worth the visit!

Time required: 2-3 hours

Other recommended visits: Musee Grevin, Tuileries Garden, Musee du Quai Branly, Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Pantheon, Grand Palais..

General Tips: Tickets for almost every attraction mentioned above and more can be pre-purchased in FNAC for roughly the same price or sometimes less, and the time it saves you in lines is worth it. If you’re planning on going to all the museums during your visit, get a museum pass.

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